If you’ve ever been to see your GP and felt like they haven’t got time for you (or you’ve had to wait weeks for an appointment), it’s because they haven’t. Far too many of us are ill with things we shouldn’t be- IBS, high blood pressure, and fatigue to name a few. We need to take control of our own health and prevent these problems from ever manifesting in the first place.
Improvements, if not cures, to these “lifestyle” diseases can take the form of lifestyle changes. We know that poor diet plays a role in a lot of these things. Stress and sedentary jobs play into it too. Sleeping badly or for too few hours also contributes to poor health. Getting to the roots of these issues doesn’t necessarily have to involve medication.
This non-medicinal approach is known as lifestyle, progressive, or functional medicine, and is essentially a very logical and human approach to health. As a lot of my patients like to avoid painkillers, injections, and surgeries, I think that this science-backed method will go down well.
Dr Chatterjee breaks down this approach into four pillars:
Within each pillar are various points, further broken down into doable chunks. He asks us to make changes across the pillars, even if it’s just one change in each. This balance is more beneficial than maxing out one column and ignoring the rest. If this sounds familiar, it might be because Dr Chatterjee was the Doctor in the House. A BBC series that my mum recommended to me that has since fallen off iPlayer.
Starting with “Relax”, we are presented with a load of common sense and real life stories of people who thought they didn’t have time for relaxing. “Me time” is important, and surely 15 minutes of it isn’t too much to ask? If you’re still not convinced by the importance of it outweighing all the things that keep you rushed off your feet, read the science that peppers the book.
Cicardian rhythms feature heavily. They are also known as your “body clock”, and there is very little point in trying to work against them. More than once I’ve come across passages that essentially say “although our lifestyles are 21st century, our physiology is prehistoric. The more we can cater to that the better”. Which is reasonable! The more “caveman” we can be in all four pillars, the easier it will be to stick to the plan.
The “Eat” pillar is maybe the most valuable one, because it’s the area where people are most confused. We get hung up on calories, but as Dr Chatterjee points out, a calorific, high fat avocado is much better for you than a diet fizzy drink with 0 calories.
“Do you feel tired? Or regularly experience low-grade and long-lasting headaches? Often when worried patients come in complaining of symptoms such as these, it turns out that many of them are simply not drinking enough water”
The “Move” pillar reiterates the importance of any movement. We underestimate the value of walking, and maybe get too hung up on pushing ourselves to the limit. The Weekend Warrior approach is not ideal! I was interested to see a mention of Gary Ward- the author of What The Foot. Working with Gary, Dr Chatterjee has come up with exercises for “sleepy glutes”. These are brilliant- really straightforward and probably one of the pieces of that pillar that I would emphasise the most.
I actually had a brief look at “Sleep”- the final pillar- before reading any of the book. I had a patient who frequently struggled to get to sleep, sometimes staying awake until dawn! A quick flick through drew me to a spread of easy tips for better sleep. Never before have I found information to relay to a patient in a book I haven’t even read yet. The Four Pillar plan is intuitively written and serves well as a reference book. Dipping in and finding what you’re looking for is easy. The book is ordered like a good lecture, with summarising points throughout.
The founder of osteopathy left behind a few quotes that frequently do the rounds in advertising material. One of these is “Anyone can find disease, it is the job of the physician to find health”. I don’t wholeheartedly agree with this. Although we definitely have our place, a huge portion of the job to find health lies with the patient themselves. The sooner this becomes the norm and Dr Chatterjee can stop prefacing his very valid points with “this might sound a bit airy-fairy”, the better!